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    Chapter 10

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    Chapter 10
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    Now August came, that florid lazy month when mid-summer dawdles along in trailing greeneries, and the day is like some jocund pagan, all flushed and asleep, with dripping beard rosy in a wine bowl of fat vine leaves. Yet, in this languorous time there may befall a brisker night, cool and lively as an intrusive boy--a night made for dancing. On such a night a hasty thought might put it as desirable that all the world should be twenty-two years old and in love, like Noble Dill.

    Upon the white bed in his room, as he dressed, lay the flat black silhouettes of his short evening coat and trousers, side by side, trim from new pressing; and whenever he looked at them Noble felt rich, tall, distinguished, and dramatic. It is a mistake, as most literary legends are mistakes, to assume that girls are the only people subject to before-the-party exhilaration. At such times a girl is often in the anxious yet determined mood of a runner before a foot race, or she may be merely hopeful; some are merry and some are grim, but arithmetical calculation of some sort, whether glorious or uneasy, is busy in their eyes as they pin and pat before their mirrors. To behold romance gone light-headed, turn to the humbler sort of man-creature under twenty-three. Alone in his room, he may enact for you scenes of flowery grace and most capricious gallantry, rehearsals as unconscious as the curtsies of field daisies in a breeze. He has neither doubt nor certainty of his charm; he has no arithmetic at all, and is often so free of calculation that he does not even pull down the shades at his windows.

    Unfortunately for the neighbours, and even for passers-by, since Noble's room had a window visible from the street, his prophetic mother had closed his shutters before he began to dress. Thus she deprived honest folk of what surely must have been to them the innocent pleasure of seeing a very young man in light but complete underwear, lifting from his head a Panama hat, new that day, in a series of courteous salutations. At times, during this same stage of his toilet, they might have had even more entertainment:--before putting on his socks Noble "one-stepped" for several minutes, still retaining upon his head the new hat. This was a hat of double value to him; not only was it pleasant to behold in his mirror, but it was engaged in solidifying for the evening the arrangement of his hair.

    It may be admitted that he was a little giddy, for the dance was Julia's. Mr. Atwater had been summoned to New York on a blessed business that would keep him a fortnight, and his daughter, alert to the first flash of opportunity, had almost instantly summoned musicians, florists, a caterer, and set plans before them. Coincidentally, Noble had chanced to see Mr. Atwater driving down Julia's Street that morning, a travelling bag beside him, and, immediately putting aside for the day all business cares, hurried to the traveller's house. Thus he forestalled, for the time being, that competition which helped to make caring for Julia so continuous a strain upon whatever organ is the seat of the anxieties. Kind Julia, busy as she was, agreed to dance the first dance with him, and the last--those being considered of such significance that he would be entitled to the perquisites of a special cavalier; for instance, a seat beside her during the serving of the customary light repast. In such high fortune, no wonder he was a little giddy as he dressed!

    The process of clothing himself was disconnected, being broken by various enacted fancies and interludes. Having approached the length of one sock toward the completion of his toilet, he absently dropped the other upon the floor, and danced again; his expression and attitude signifying that he clasped a revered partner. Releasing her from this respectful confinement, he offered the invisible lady a gracious arm and walked up and down the room with a stateliness tempered to rhythm, a cakewalk of strange refinement. Phrases seemed to be running in his head, impromptus symbolic of the touching and romantic, for he spoke them half aloud hi a wistful yet uplifted manner. "Oh, years!" he said. "Oh, years so fair; oh, night so rare!" Then he added, in a deeper voice:

    "For life is but a golden dream so sweetly."

    Other whimsies came forth from him as the dressing slowly continued, though one might easily be at fault in attempting to fathom what was his thought when, during the passage of his right foot through the corresponding leg of his trousers, he exclaimed commandingly:

    "Now, Jocko, for the stirrup cup!"

    Jack boots and a faithful squire, probably.

    During the long and dreamy session with his neck gear he went back to the softer motif:

    "Oh, years so fair; oh, night so rare!

    For life is but a golden dream so sweetly."

    Then, pausing abruptly to look at his coat, so smoothly folded upon the bed, he addressed it: "O noblest sample of the tailor's dext'rous art!"

    This was too much courtesy, for the coat was "ready-made," and looked nobler upon the bed than upon its owner. In fact, it was by no means a dext'rous sample; but evidently Noble believed in it with a high and satisfying faith; and he repeated his compliment to it as he put it on:

    "Come, noblest sample of the tailor's art; I'll don thee!"

    During these processes he had been repeatedly summoned to descend to the family dinner, and finally his mother came lamenting and called up from the front hall that "everything" was "all getting cold!"

    But by this time he was on his way, and though he went back to leave his hat in his room, unwilling to confide it to the hat-rack below, he presently made his appearance in the dining-room and took his seat at the table. This mere sitting, however, appeared to be his whole conception of dining; he seemed as unaware of his mother's urging food upon him as if he had been a Noble Dill of waxwork. Several tunes he lifted a fork and set it down without guiding it to its accustomed destination. Food was far from his thoughts or desires, and if he really perceived its presence at all, it appeared to him as something vaguely ignoble upon the horizon.

    But he was able to partake of coffee; drank two cups feverishly, his hand visibly unsteady; and when his mother pointed out this confirmation of many prophecies that cigarettes would ruin him, he asked if anybody had noticed whether or not it was cloudy outdoors. At that his father looked despondent, for the open windows of the dining-room revealed an evening of fragrant clarity.

    "I see, I see," Noble returned pettishly when the fine state of this closely adjacent weather was pointed out to him by his old-maid sister. "It wouldn't be raining, of course. Not on a night like this." He jumped up. "It's time for me to go."

    Mrs. Dill laughed. "It's only a little after seven. Julia won't be through her own dinner yet. You mustn't----"

    But with a tremulous smile, Noble shook his head and hurriedly left the room. He went upstairs for his hat, and while there pinned a geranium blossom upon his lapel, for it may be admitted that in boutonnieres his taste was as yet unformed.

    Coming down again, he took a stick under his arm and was about to set forth when he noticed a little drift of talcum powder upon one of his patent leather shoes. After carefully removing this accretion and adding a brighter lustre to the shoe by means of friction against the back of his ankle, he decided to return to his room and brush the affected portion of his trousers. Here a new reverie arrested him; he stood with the brush in his hand for some time; then, not having used it, he dropped it gently upon the bed, lit an Orduma cigarette, descended, and went forth to the quiet street.

    As he walked along Julia's Street toward Julia's Party, there was something in his mien and look more dramatic than mere sprightliness; and when he came within sight of the ineffable house and saw its many lights shining before him, he breathed with profundity, half halting. Again he murmured:

    "Oh, years so fair; oh, night so rare!

    For life is but a golden dream so sweetly."

    At the gate he hesitated. Perhaps--perhaps he was a little early. It might be better to walk round the block.

    He executed this parade, and again hesitated at the gate. He could see into the brightly lighted hall, beyond the open double doors; and it contained nothing except its usual furniture. Once more he walked round the block. The hall was again in the same condition. Again he went on.

    When he had been thrice round the block after that, he discovered human beings in the hall; they were Florence, in a gala costume, and Florence's mother, evidently arrived to be assistants at the party, for, with the helpful advice of a coloured manservant, they were arranging some bunches of flowers on two hall tables. Their leisurely manner somewhat emphasized the air of earliness that hung about the place, and Noble thought it better to continue to walk round the block. The third time after that, when he completed his circuit, the musicians were just arriving, and their silhouettes, headed by that of the burdened bass fiddler, staggered against the light of the glowing doorway like a fantasia of giant beetles. Noble felt that it would be better to let them get settled, and therefore walked round the block again.

    Not far from the corner above Julia's, as he passed, a hoarse and unctuous voice, issuing out of an undistinguishable lawn, called his name: "Noble! Noble Dill!" And when Noble paused, Julia's Uncle Joseph came waddling forth from the dimness and rested his monstrous arms upon the top of the fence, where a street light revealed them as shirt-sleeved and equipped with a palm-leaf fan.

    "What is the matter, Noble?" Mr. Atwater inquired earnestly.

    "Matter?" Noble repeated. "Matter?"

    "We're kind of upset," said Mr. Atwater. "My wife and I been just sittin' out here in our front yard, not doing any harm to anybody, and here it's nine times we've counted you passing the place--always going the same way!" He spoke as with complaint, a man with a grievance. "It's kind of ghostlike," he added. "We'd give a good deal to know what you make of it."

    Noble was nonplussed. "Why----" he said. "Why----"

    "How do you get back? That's the mystery!" said Mr. Atwater. "You're always walkin' down street and never up. You know my wife's never been too strong a woman, Noble, and all this isn't doing her any good. Besides, we sort of figured out that you ought really to be at Julia's dance this evening."

    "I am," said Noble nervously. "I mean that's where I'm going. I'm going there. I'm going there."

    "That's what's upsetting us so!" the fat man exclaimed. "You keep on going there! Just when we've decided you must be there, at last, here you come, going there again. Well, don't let me detain you. But if you do decide to go in, some time, Noble, I'm afraid you aren't going to be able to do much dancing."

    Noble, who had begun to walk on, halted in sudden panic. Did this sinister fear of Mr. Atwater's mean that, as an uncle, he had heard Julia was suddenly ill?

    "Why won't I?" he asked quickly. "Is anything----"

    "Your poor feet!" said Mr. Atwater, withdrawing. "Good-night, Noble."

    The youth went on, somewhat disturbed; it seemed to him that this uncle, though Julia's, was either going queer in the head or had chosen a poor occasion to be facetious. Next time, probably, it would be better to walk round the block below this. But it was no longer advisable to walk round any block. When he came to the happy gateway, the tuning of instruments and a fanfare of voices sounded from within the house; girls in light wraps were fluttering through the hall with young men; it was "time for the party!" And Noble went in.

    Throughout the accomplishment of the entrance he made, his outside and his inside were directly contradictory. His inside was almost fluttering: there might have been a nest of nervous young birds in his chest; but as he went upstairs to the "gentlemen's dressing-room," to leave his hat and stick, this flopping and scrambling within him was never to be guessed from his outside. His outside was unsympathetic, even stately; he greeted his fellow guests with negligent hauteur, while his glance seemed to say: "Only peasantry here!"
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